NORTON - The Wheaton College men's basketball team played just two of its first 11 games at its Emerson Gymnasium, and the Lyons treasured their homecourt Thursday by holding off Emerson College, 81-76.
The Lyons (3-1) trailed by six points (70-64) with five minutes left, then gained the lead at 71-70 on a three-point field goal by freshman Jaxon Leo with 3:30 left, regained the lead on a basket by Brent DiGiovanna with 2:12 to go and secured the victory when Brian Zukowski went backdoor, taking a pass from DiGiovanna for a 77-73 margin with a minute left.
"We couldn't take advantage of the mismatches," said Wheaton coach Brian Walmsley as the Lyons had to conquer an Emerson team (2-3, which often had four or five guards on the floor, all 6-foot or shorter. "I told the guys that we'll see that only one time all season - five guys who can beat you off the dribble and make their shots."
Zukowski, a senior forward from Dracut, the 11th Wheaton men's player to join the 1,000-point club, totaled 23 points (on 8-for-13 shooting) with eight assists and seven rebounds. DiGiovanna (five rebounds, three assists) and Leo (five rebounds) each totaled 16 points, while junior guard Eric Johnston had 11.
Wheaton extended its unbeaten streak to 13 games over Emerson, which suffered the loss of sophomore guard Anthony Remias on a horrific fall to the floor with 4:05 left in the first half, the Pennsylvania native taken to Sturdy Hospital in Attleboro under emergency care for a concussion and a possible neck injury.
Wheaton owned a 10-point (38-28) lead by halftime, but Emerson used seven three-point field goals, including one by freshman guard Jeremy Shannon of Lowell to take a 66-63 lead with 6:12 remaining.
Wheaton trailed by eight points (18-10) eight minutes into the second half, but then reeled off 11 straight points - four from DiGiovanna and Zukowski hitting a three-pointer - to take a 21-18 lead. Then the Lyons went on a 16-2 surge, powered by three-pointers from Zukowski and Leo and a clever baseline move by sophomore forward Nick Michel for a 37-25 lead.
While Wheaton wanted to play man-to-man defense, its zone defense forced Emerson to the perimeter. Emerson scored just 10 points over the final 12 minutes of the first half, the Lions from Boston shooting just 35 percent (11-for-31) over the first 20 minutes.
"That's tough to match up against, with their speed and their quickness," added Walmsley. Emerson went 11-for-34 from three-point range and forced the Lyons into 19 turnovers.
Emerson, which beat UMass-Boston by 23 points in its season opener at its new Boylston St. gymnasium in its last outing, had five players in double scoring digits, lead by Shannon (17 points), Newburyport sophomore Ben Chase (14) and freshman center Bryan Rouse (14 points, nine rebounds) of East Greenwich, R.I.
"We were too chaotic on the perimeter, we were not being patient enough," added Walmsley. However, Wheaton shot 53 percent from the floor overall and had 21 assists on its 30 field goals.
The Lyons make just their second appearance at home Saturday afternoon at 1 against Joe Farroba's 3-1 Bridgewater State Bears, who are coming off of a victory over previously unbeaten UMass-Dartmouth.